The grinding machines can handle blades of various metal thicknesses, but their sweet spot is 0.062
in. and thinner. The technology seemed to be a perfect fit for the medical industry, particularly the endoscopic sector.
“Martin had developed this machine really to
make headway into the minimally invasive surgery
space. But it didn’t happen that way. Our product
mix for the first 19 years of this business was about
80 percent industrial applications—blades for cut-
ting films and plastics—and 20 percent in the endo-
scopic medical space.”
So said T.M. Dickinson, vice president of sales,
who added that during the past 11 years, the com-
pany has changed dramatically. In 2005 it was a $14
million shop that, as its name at the time suggested,
specialized in blades. Just 11 years later, the organi-
zation has grown into a six-location contract manu-
facturer with laser cutting, extensive laser welding,
stamping, plastic injection molding, tube and nee-
dle fabrication, and more (see Figure 2).
The growth started with a concerted sales effort.
Although Specialty Blades’ unique grinding technology was perfectly suited for the medical field,
many prospects still perceived the firm as a supplier
of industrial knives.
So in 2005 Specialty Blades created a new division called Incision Tech to focus specifically on the
endoscopic market and improved its oversight and
regulatory compliance departments. In 2008 the
company expanded further into the medical industry, making its first big move beyond blades.
“We realized there was more to the medical device space than just cutting,” Dickinson said. “
Piercing and fluid delivery was a piece we were missing.”
To that end, the company purchased Popper and
Sons, a Rhode Island firm that had been making
needles, metal tubing, and related fluid-delivery
products since 1922.
“After we bought Popper, though, we knew we
had a branding issue,” Dickinson said. “We had
Specialty Blades, Incision Tech, and Popper, and all
used the same manufacturing resources. And our
engineers would support all three facets.”
Many carried around three business cards, each
with a different company name, which of course
caused confusion. So after the Popper acquisition,
the company changed its name to Cadence. “So
now we could all go to market with the Cadence
brand,” Dickinson said.
In 2012 Cadence expanded again in the medical
arena, moving beyond what Dickinson called “the
business end of the medical device, the cutting and
the piercing. We wanted to move up the value chain
and do more subassembly work. And in some cases,
we really wanted to do finished-device assembly.
So we created a division in Pittsburgh that does just
that, with a 21,000-square-foot Class 8 cleanroom.”
At this point Cadence had flipped its customer
mix ratio. Ten years ago the ratio was 20 percent
medical, 80 percent industrial. In 2012 it was 80 per-
cent medical and the life sciences market (research
facilities and the like) and just 20 percent industrial.
Finally, in 2014 Cadence expanded further into
the medical space and diversified into the automotive market as well, acquiring Plainfield Precision’s
plants in Sturgeon Bay, Wis.; Plymouth, Mass.; and
in the Dominican Republic. The Sturgeon Bay location gave Cadence stamping and tool- and diemak-ing expertise; the Plymouth plant came with plastic
injection molding capability, valuable in the medical industry where most parts are a combination of
metal and plastic; and the Dominican Republic facility gave the company cleanroom assembly services
that are close to many medical device OEM assembly plants in the Caribbean, including quite a few in
the Dominican Republic.
Such growth didn’t happen just from a single proprietary grinding technology, though it certainly was
an important piece of the puzzle. Other advanced
technologies make up other puzzle pieces, and this
includes advanced laser processing.
For one customer Cadence welds 3 million parts
annually, joining a machined part to a stamping
in a highly automated cell. In all, the company has
six automated laser welding centers across all its
plants, as well as six manual laser welding cells, in-
cluding the company’s Advanced Welding Lab™ in
Virginia (see Figures 3 and 4).
“We’re probably one of the largest laser welding
houses that nobody has ever heard of,” said Jack
Abato, vice president of operations.
The company builds its own laser systems using
off-the-shelf components. In several cutting systems, a 14-in.-wide coil is fed under a low-powered
fiber laser cutting head, which cuts small workpieces nearly continuously, stitch-cutting the part
profiles to leave microtabs (so parts stay in the nest)
and cutting strip to a sheet of manageable length
for the operator to unload. It looks like a conventional laser cutting nest, just miniaturized.
The 2014 Plainfield acquisition, with its stamping capabilities, gave Cadence more processing options. If a part reaches a certain volume, engineers
now consider building a die for it. This isn’t just because of the greater throughput, but also because
of the automation possibilities when it comes to
joining. Recently for one customer, the company developed a transfer stamping line in which the part is
blanked, formed, and then laser welded in the very
next transfer station.
For lower-volume laser welding work, the company uses flexible fixturing, such as a metal breadboard, commonly used in electronics assembly, to
mount fixture components. It’s not unlike the flexible fixturing grid tables many custom fabricators
use—only, again, shrunken down in size. If technicians need to change over a job, they just rotate
Abato said that engineers are considering flexible robotic fixturing with special end effectors for
a few components. The goal is to create a flexible
fabrication cell with laser-cut parts being picked up
by robots that would present them under the laser
During the past 11 years, Cadence has grown into a
major contract manufacturer with extensive laser processing, including both laser cutting and laser welding.
Cadence’s six automated laser welding lines process millions of parts a year.